Doug McDermott wasn't scoring, Evansville was coming back, and Creighton's fans were getting nervous.
As if on cue, the returning All-American found his rhythm again, scoring 14 of his 29 points in a 6½-minute stretch of the second half to help No. 16 Creighton pull away for an 87-70 victory on Saturday night.
The Purple Aces had cut Creighton's lead to 10 points early in the second half when Grant Gibbs missed a jumper that McDermott put back to end a drought that lasted 10½ minutes. By the time McDermott's flurry ended, the Bluejays led by 20 and were on their way to a sixth straight win.
"They did a really good job of defending me, were really physical with me and crowded the lane like they usually do," McDermott said. "I wasn't worried about scoring because if they put all that attention on me, it just opens the floor up for my teammates. Once I got that putback, it got me to play a little harder on both ends."
Gregory Echenique had 13 points and 13 rebounds, Jahenns Manigat added 13 points, and Avery Dingman had 11 for the Bluejays (12-1), who won their Missouri Valley Conference opener.
McDermott also had 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
Colt Ryan, who scored an arena-record 43 points in his last visit, matched his season high with 25 for the Purple Aces (7-6, 0-1).
"We just couldn't let Colt have a night like last year," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Troy Taylor added 10 for Evansville, which has lost 14 straight in Omaha since 1999. Taylor also had 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first triple-double.
The Bluejays planned on a tough night. They lost 65-57 in Evansville last season, then had to rally from seven points down in the last two minutes before winning 93-92 in overtime in Omaha.
Creighton beat Evansville 99-71 in the MVC tournament semifinals.
"We have a pretty old group. We have a lot of the same guys back, so I think that helped a little bit," Echenique said. "I think trying to use that past experience, we knew they were going to come ready. They showed us at their place when we played them. We didn't want it to happen again."
Still, the Bluejays squandered most of a 17-point lead and led by just seven early in the second half.
"We didn't have much energy," Doug McDermott said. "We weren't working as hard as we were to start the game. We kind of got complacent and weren't guarding them with as much urgency as we should have."
Greg McDermott said he figured it was a matter of time before his son started scoring again after his mini funk.
"He has a way of letting the game come to him and to try not to force the issue," Coach McDermott said. "He understands that if he posts up with some urgency and some effort, it's tough for one guy to guard him."
Evansville coach Marty Simmons knows that all too well.
"We tried different guys on him, but he's one of the best players in the country and there's a reason why," Simmons said. "We wanted to limit his touches, didn't want to foul him, and keep him off the offensive glass. You look at his stats, and we didn't execute. Give him credit. He does it every night."
Creighton didn't show much rust in its first game in 10 days. For the third straight game, the Bluejays never trailed. They held a 43-27 rebounding advantage against the undersized Aces.
Evansville, which hadn't played in a week, started 5 of 20 from the field and fell behind by double digits less than 6 minutes in.
The Bluejays broke the game open with an 11-0 run that Manigat finished with a dazzling drive to the hoop.
Evansville had trouble getting Ryan touches early as Manigat, Gibbs and Dingman took turns defending him. Ryan, who scored 25 in a loss at Butler on Dec. 22, missed four of his first five shots but warmed up the last 5 minutes of the half to help the Aces get the deficit down to 11 at the break.
Evansville got it to 45-38 on Ryan's jumper in the lane and Taylor's layup off a steal early in the second half.
Chatman's 3-pointer restored the double-digit lead, but just briefly. Ryan hit a jumper from the wing, and there was a sense in the sellout crowd of 18,458 — Creighton's second-largest ever — that the Aces weren't going to go away.
But there wasn't much they could do once McDermott found his rhythm, and the Bluejays went on to their sixth straight win.
The victory bodes well for Valley favorite Creighton. Since the 1993-94 season, only once has a team won or shared the conference's regular-season championship without winning its league opener.